At Monday’s Reidsville council planning session, concerns were heard over the lack of action with regard to the newly-instated City Ethics Committee.
Following the purchase of the Cheney Law Office and the swearing in of Mayor Sydney Clifton, it was decided that the City would compile an independent ethics committee to hear all concerns dealing with the city as provided for in the Charter. The members, Vickie Nail, Donald Prestage, and attorney DuAnn Davis. The members were appointed and confirmed by a vote of council in January.
Monday, citizen and committee member Vickie Nail brought to the attention of the council the fact that during the March meeting, proper protocol was not followed for the purposes of the ethics committee. Following the regular business of the meeting, the council, accompanied by City Attorney Van Cheney, went into executive session to discuss the fact that an employee may file an ethics complaint against. In the executive session, the council decided that if a complaint is filed, an investigation will take place. But according to the code section and local ordinances, that is not how the the process is supposed to take place.
Ordiance 5-11-2004, Sec 2-173 specifically reads “all complaints against a member of mayor or council shall be filed in writing with the city clerk and referred to the ethics committee in such form as may be prescribed by the ethics committee.”
This means that the council and the mayor should have NO KNOWLEDGE of the incident other than the existence of one. Parties, dates, times, details, and the like should not be provided to the council, the mayor, the city attorney, or even the clerk. The complaint form is to be submitted in a sealed envelope to the clerk – who will not review it – and will pass it on to the committee. Only after an investigation and recommendation of action by the committee will the council be privy to the information. The process is in place to deter from a conflict of interest and protect the integrity of the investigation.
What does all of this mean? In the presence of the City Attorney, the council voted in executive session to circumvent their own ordinance during the March meeting. Whether or not an ethics concern that has not yet been filed falls into the proper use of an executive session is not clear.
Fountain and Prestage both pleaded with the council to work with the committee on how the process should operate to provide city employees with an orientation as to how to go about complaints in the future. Both suggested that the council open the lines of communication to work with the ethics committee to use it as it was intended to be used.
Councilman Curtis Colewell expressed concern over the fact that council would have no oversight of the investigation saying, “That keeps us in the dark.”
Nail reminded Colewell that the council would have input on penalties and further action following a proper investigation.
While the council did not have a meeting quorum, no action was taken and the proposed discussion did not yield any additional votes.
As of April 4, no complaint had been filed by any employee of the City.
NOTE: Councilman Doug Williams was absent due to an illness. Councilman John Wingate, Councilwoman Carolyn Blackshear, and City Attorney Van Cheney were also absent from the April 4, 2016 meeting.